Two cents worth of ideas...
You mention being paranoid about down because you've had bad experiences with wet sleeping bags in the past. When choosing down vs synthetic, you ought to consider what sort of shelter you will choose when you migrate to an overall lighter system. If you choose a tarp/bivy arrangement, then being nervous about down makes sense, as it requires skill and time to set up a tarp to keep you dry in a serious storm. On the other hand, if you are going to have a rock-solid tent, then you can store your sleeping bag in a good plastic bag (trash compactor bags are thick and durable) when it's in your pack, count on a waterproof tent, and so down might be more viable.
In terms of saving $$, the "swap gear" section of this forum is quite active, and there are usually gear addicts who buy every new thing (I've been guilty) and occasionally need to shed stuff in order to feed the habit. You might want to post a Want-To-Guy note on that forum.